28 December 2010

Keeping Leaders Accountable

I have been getting into Band of Brothers, both book and miniseries. One of the initial lessons I learned was how important it is for leaders to be respected by their troops.

Are our Army officers and command NCOs really accountable? If so, to whom?

While the men of Easy Company were at Camp Toccoa, they developed a distinct disdain for their commanding officer, CPT Sobel. Some hinted that if they had the chance they would accidentally shoot him in combat.

It hurts any organization to force leaders on people without the former earning the latter's respect.

Early on in the colonial militia system, officers were elected popularly. Men were willing to fight, and followed orders; they just wanted the men giving those orders to realize who chose them.

It seems like such a foreign concept in our modern armed forces, but why can't what we revere in our civilian government work just as well for our military leadership?

The argument against voting for leaders in the military, I would assume, is that it would become a popularity contest at the expense of Soldiers getting the most effective leader.

Anyone who believes that doesn't trust the judgment of men and women who have volunteered to fight and die for their country. Nor is he acquainted with some of the substandard leaders currently serving, which is simply to say, the current system isn't perfect.

I teach university classes, and every week that I deliver lectures, I wonder very thoughtfully about how they are received. You see, at the end of the semester, all my students complete anonymous evaluations of my performance.

So far they have all been good, but I never forget in whose good graces I need to be.

Ultimately, my supervisors decide whether to promote me or even retain me. They decide which classes I am best suited to teach.

Think back again to the Band of Brothers episode in which CPT Sobel gets reassigned. His leaders knew that he would have performed poorly in combat, though he was good at getting a unit trained for war. Often, those higher in the chain of command don't get the clearest picture of a leader's skills and capabilities. Those below him often have a better picture. The best is a combination of the two.

I know we have command surveys, but those are often muddled, confusing, and not taken seriously.

The best way to keep leaders accountable is to let their subordinates rate them.

It's an important part of a big organization for workers to have respect and confidence in their leaders. It's equally important for leaders to know that their subordinates have a voice.


  1. I would shoot this blog entry in combat if I could.

  2. But you would do it anonymously, no doubt.